Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reasonable Faith

In my previous post, I mentioned my adventures of sparring with atheists at other blogs. Like most Christians, I am typically accused of having a blind and unsubstantiated faith, suppressing reason, and not really “knowing” for sure, but rather “believing”. Below is an edited compilation of my responses:


I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. (The apostle Paul, during his defense before Festus and King Agrippa; Acts 26:25-26).

I guess I am in good company if I am accused of not being completely rational in my beliefs.   The apostle Paul, formerly know as Saul of Tarsus, a learned man of letters, zealous Pharisee and persecutor of Christians, was famously converted and dedicated the rest of his life to preaching the faith he once tried to snuff out.  When these activities got him into trouble wth the authorities and he made his defense before kings and governors, he was accused, among other things, of being out of his mind.  His famous response quoted above is instructive.

Toward the end of his life, imprisoned and awaiting execution, the apostle Paul said, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” He used the word “believe” but it is also understandable that he used it together with “know”. He was, after all, an eye witness, a former enemy and persecutor of the faith before the risen Jesus literally knocked him off his horse and changed the course of his life.


Belief for or against Christianity (or for or against God in general) is in the strictest sense just that: belief. There is nothing wrong with that, because the word or concept is biblical. The Greek word most often used in the Gospels is “πιστευειν” which means “believe” or “trust”, the idea being that you are convinced enough of it that you put your trust in it, even to the point of staking your life on it. Is that the same as “knowing”? Not quite, but pretty darned close.

As far as knowing or believing, every one of us has to weigh the evidence both for and against and make a decision. I for one have looked at the pros and cons and am convinced of the truth of Christianity. Perhaps you have weighed the evidence and have come to the opposite conclusion. I can assure you that I have arrived at my conclusion with my eyes open and have not suppressed “reason”. After all, the New Testament itself calls Christianity a “reasonable faith” and not without…. (Oh, well!) reason!

First and foremost, it is entirely reasonable to come to the conclusion that there is a God. I don’t have the time or space to get into the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the anthropic principle, etc. You have probably heard it all before anyway and perhaps have already dismissed it. Others, people more intelligent than me, find these arguments compelling as do I. So it is entirely reasonable to at least be a deist, and the only difference between a theist and deist is that the former believes that God is involved in the affairs of His creation. Why wouldn’t He be? Especially after one considers some very compelling accounts of His direct involvement; i.e., the Gospels, which are at least worthy of some critical examination and consideration.

There are at least four different recorded accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. They all were written in a definite place, time, and geo-political situation, concerning events that occurred in Palestine about two-thousand years ago under the Roman government, a time and circumstance about which we have copious amounts of information. These accounts were supplemented by a number of widely circulated letters-written to and about real people, real places and real events-hardly the stuff of mythology. They also shared one fundamental premise: the death and resurrection of Jesus.

After having seen their friend, teacher and hero die a horrific death on a Roman cross, historical figures like Peter and John would have much rather gone back into obscurity and lived their remaining days as humble and quiet fishermen. In fact, that was their original intention after the crucifixion. But something happened that caused a major paradigm shift in their world. What was it? Similarly, another historical figure named Saul of Tarsus was devoting all of his energies to persecuting and killing Christians, until he underwent his own paradigm shift. They and countless others were not thinking about legends and myths as they faced their own deaths by crucifixion, decapitation, burning at the stake or mauling by lions. They knew one and only one thing: They had known and seen the historical Jesus-who had been brutally murdered on a cross for all to see--alive and well again. Nothing else really mattered. In fact, the apostle Paul boldly asserted that everything hinged on whether or not the resurrection happened; and if it didn’t happen, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (I Corinthians 15:32)

Many people have since attempted to debunk the accounts written in the Gospels, attempting to explain away the written accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Some just dismiss it out of hand, saying it is scientifically impossible. (Well, duh! I guess that’s what makes it miraculous.) Others have concocted ridiculous theories-such as the swoon theory, the stolen body theory, etc-all of which fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. Others have simply made up alternate stories out of whole cloth.

Still others have dismissed the Gospel accounts as legendary stories that evolved over time, yet this theory does not hold water either, for a number of reasons:

  1. The writings are much too close to the events in question. Consider for example, just one line of reasoning based on internal evidence, the same you would apply to other historical documents. The book of Acts appears to be intended as a chronicle of the beginnings of the church after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was written by Luke, who during certain portions of the book (chapters 20 and 21) writes in the first person, indicating that he was one of Paul’s traveling companions and therefore an eye witness of some of what he was writing. But the book actually ends with Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. There is no mention of Paul’s second imprisonment, much less his death. Neither is there mention of the siege of Jerusalem of A.D. 70. Wouldn’t you think such important events would be worthy of mentioning, unless of course they had not happened yet? So it is plausible to conclude that the book of Acts was completed sometime in the 60’s at the latest. And looking again at internal evidence, Luke refers in Acts Chapter 1 to his “former book” about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is an obvious reference to the Gospel of Luke, which itself in its introductory sentences claims to have been written after several other Gospel accounts. So the events were being chronicled at a time when most of the eye witnesses, as well as their very powerful detractors, were still alive and able to corroborate or refute the writings. Legends and fables evolve over centuries, not within a decade or two of the events, when most of the main characters and witnesses are still alive.
  2. Their specific allusions to times, dates, places and people, as well as extra-biblical sources that attest to many of the same events, throws the New Testament writings completely out of the legend and myth genre.
  3. If the New Testament writers had wanted to foist a lie on an unsuspecting world, they would have removed a number of counter-productive elements from their writings. For example, the four Gospels contained differing perspectives on the same story, resulting in what at first glance might seem to be contradictions. Why not remove them? Furthermore, why would they include Jesus' anguished prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, where it seems he is trying to get out of going to the cross? Even though what he was desiring to avoid was not so much suffering and death but rather the totally alien condition of losing fellowship with His Father as He took on the sins of the world, the inclusion of these prayers in the Gospels does not make Jesus look like a mythical superhero. Furthermore, it is counterproductive to portray the disciples for the doubting, egotistical, fearful and betraying dolts that they are portrayed to be in the Gospels. Neither does it help their cause to have the first witnesses to the resurrection to be women, who were of such low social standing at the time that their testimony was not admissible in court. Yet all of these details were included in the Gospels, though it would have helped their cause greatly if they modified or deleted them. But they were included for one and only one reason: because they were true.

Many who have carefully examined all the available written accounts with the same scrutiny one would apply to other historical documents, applying logic and reasoning in the same way that a juror would be asked to examine the evidence before him, have reached the reasonable verdict that the accounts as written must be true.

It seems to me that the major mistake in reasoning made by skeptics is their a priori dismissal of the New Testament writings because they make allusions to miraculous events; therefore they must be legendary, or must have been inaccurately recorded, lost in transmission, morphed over time, etc. But when you consider things like time proximity to the events recorded, the number of consistent manuscripts, accurate allusions to known facts and events, etc. the New Testament writings are unsurpassed in their reliability as compared to other literary and historical writings. They just have that pesky problem of claiming miraculous events.  But what else would you expect to happen when God intervenes in history?


feeno said...


I wanted to tell you last week when you wrote that about "I know whom I have believed..." that the next day (I think)? we sang that at church. I thought of you and then said a prayer for our atheist friends.

later Terp, feeno

Steve Schuler said...

Hey TMC!

That you opened this blog entry with a discussion of Paul fits very well with a long standing notion that I have had about what it might take to convert me to Christianity.

In the past I have told my brother, the previously mentioned devout Catholic, that an experience akin to what Saul/Paul had on the road to Damascus might be sufficient to provide the impetus to convert me and cause me to begin to evangelize. If I had a personal encounter with Jesus as Saul/Paul did, I might change my name from Steve to Pteve and go out to tell the world of what I had experienced.

It would appear that Saul/Paul did not come to Christianity by the use of thought and reason, but rather by a spiritually overwhelming and even physically altering (loss of eyesight) experience that was entirely unsolicited but evidently radically transformative. Am I less deserving than Saul/Paul? Who knows? But I can say in all honesty that after many hours of prayer, meditation, and "opening" myself to the presence of God that absolutely nothing of His presence has been made known to me. After many hours of reading and contemplating the Bible, I have not had one iota of insight afforded me that might begin to compel me to believe in Jehovah or Jesus.

Unlike some of the other patrons of Feeno's blog who's Christian faith endured well into adulthood, in my case, despite having a Christian upbringing, my faith did not outlast my childhood. When I was baptized at the age of 10 years old I already had doubts about the "truth" of Christianity and by the age of 12 I no longer considered myself a Christian.

As part of my "quest for truth" in which I engaged in the exercises mentioned above, came at different times in my adult life as a means to provide "God" the opportunity to correct my thinking in the event that my own hubris was an obstacle to experiencing the truth of Christianity, if there were any truth in it to be realized.

I hope that this very brief exposition of my own experience affords you some small insight into the experience of someone who lost their faith very early in life and has not been able regain it.

While I have not addressed it in this post, by the most judicious use of my own very limited powers of reasoning utilizing what modest amount of knowledge that I have been able to acquire throught the course of my life, I think it nigh on impossible for me to somehow convince myself that a Christian worldview is most in accord with reality. And that is most definitely not a lightly considered or prejudiced position.




I have no intention or interest in challenging you to move from your own perspective or faith. I just want to share a bit of my own experience and thoughts with you on these matters.

Steve Schuler said...
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Steve Schuler said...
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The Maryland Crustacean said...

Thanks for your comments Steve. I have a few ideas which you might find helpful. But I would like to take a little time to give you a thoughtful answer, and right now, mine eyelids are getting heavy. Hold that thought!